Federation in East Asia
East Asian Secretary of the WSCF, 1959-1961
Towards the end of the General Committee meeting, I received a major surprise. I was told that the Executive Committee, meeting one evening, had decided to invite me to join the staff as Secretary for East Asia. That hit me like a bolt from the blue out of a clear summer sky. I was incredulous, thrilled, and confused. It took me several months to reach the point of acceptance, and it took the Federation two years in which to find the funds for the appointment. Therefore, it was not until Christmas 1958 that I joined the staff. In the end, only enough money could be raised to make the appointment possible, if I worked out of Melbourne. So the plans of moving, as a family, to Japan or Hong Kong had to be abandoned, and we had to suffer longer periods of separation in order to cope with the higher travel costs of flying from one end of the area. My area was Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Okinawa, Japan and South Korea. Technically, China and Taiwan were in the area, but travel to China was not an option at that time from either the Chinese or Australian government points of view. To have visited Taiwan would have meant the withdrawal of the Chinese SCM from the Federation because they had to comply (and wished to comply) with we One China policy of their government. That policy affirmed that Taiwan was an integral part of China and should not be dealt with except through Peking.
The Federation decided that it should not take any action, which would debar it from the possibility of contact with Chinese students, yen contact became possible, I myself agreed with this position. The decision was made easier by the fact that the WSCF had no real contacts in Taiwan at that time.
I began my service with the Federation by attending the Rangoon Conference of January 1959. Because of the need to arrive early for the final preparations and because of the airline schedule, I had to leave Melbourne on Christmas Eve. As our children were nine and seven years of age, this was a sad disappointment for all of us, but unavoidable. KLM compensated by the gift of a cheerful Santa Claus plate at breakfast time and an excellent formal dinner for staff and passengers in their pleasant, rambling transit hotel at Bangkok. Before dinner, a mutual intuition led to the discovery that a young Indonesian man who had arrived from Djakarta, was also going to the conference. Therefore, we enjoyed the dinner together. This was the era prior to the introduction of jets, when flying was slower and noisier, but interspersed with enjoyable over-night stops. As well as slower, it was also lower, giving a better view of the scenery below. Arriving over Rangoon, the next morning, the pilot gave us an excellent, close view of the wonderful golden roof of the huge Shwe Dagon Buddhist Temple in the middle of the city.
The Rangoon Conference was an important, and very successful, pilot project in relation to the World Conference to be held at Strasbourg in eighteen months' time. It was an Asian conference for leaders of SCMs, and was a major event in the WSCF's program on The Life and Mission of the Church. Central to it was the Bible Study; and, twenty-eight years later, it is the studies conducted, consecutively, by Paul Verghese and Davis McCaughey, which remain the main memories of the conference. Paul, at that time, was a young Indian layman of the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East in India, who was secretary to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. He was later more widely known as Bishop Paulos Gregorios and, more recently, as the Metropolitan of Delhi. Davis was Professor of New Testament Studies at Ormond College, Melbourne, later Master of Ormond, and now Governor of Victoria. Both were, and are, superb exegetes and teachers.
The setting was notable. A Buddhist country in which the main Christian Church is Baptist. A former British colony very proud of its independence and struggling to find the appropriate form of national government. Fine intellectual and spiritual leadership in
the Church and in the University with strong commitment to the WSCF.
Immediately after the conference, there was a leaders' meeting to evaluate and interpret the conference with reference to the rest of the LMC program. My notes of this meeting remind me that it was a candid, critical and appreciative assessment. It also dealt in detail with ways of following up Rangoon in the Asian SCMs, and with implications of the Rangoon experience for the Strasbourg conference. Amongst the latter, were suggestions about the teaching method ('Rangoon gave no new method. Strasbourg could use a pioneering approach to a conference. Approach to whole man - not just intellectual'), and about the importance of 'beginning with the world' (rather than the church). Hans-Reudi Weber made a number of useful suggestions such as: 'each seminar should prepare a whole series of prayers in relation to their subject and they should be prayed' (instead of having a lecture on prayer - too intellectual). He also suggested the use of plays, films and 'the preparation of a social drama, a mime and a diagrammatic report' - things that have become parts of conferences over the next decade or so, but rather slowly. I see to my surprise that I suggested a performance of 'Huis s Clos, Jean-Paul Sartre's play to which Marie-Jeanne de Haller had drawn the attention of her Bible study group at Nasrapur. She had contrasted the hopelessness of the closed room of the play with the hope and vitality of the locked room in Jerusalem when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples. The contrasting images of the two rooms had made a deep impression on me and had deepened in the years since. This and some of the other suggestions were taken up into the planning for Strasbourg, but the main message of the need to involve students in the planning and conducting of the teaching method was not really absorbed, as I shall indicate when recalling Strasbourg.
There was also a meeting of Asian General Secretaries, which was chiefly concerned with the situation and problems of Asian SCMs, but also with the follow-up of Rangoon and the LMC program in Asia.
In the light of all this, I wrote to Philippe on 27 February 1959 about ‘the importance of Rangoon’ and made the following points, as recorded in my notes:
1. The concept of 'the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the Asian Revolution', which had been a major theme in the Rangoon Conference, became a faith by which to live.
2. The renewal of the Church was seen to be an urgent necessity particularly in terms of turning from a self-contained pietism to a responsible world-affirming mission.
3. The other faiths of men (sic) were taken seriously as living faiths and Christ was seen as standing in judgment over both Christian and non-Christian. (In this regard, Rangoon is a turning point in Church history.)
4. Asians discovered Asia in all its bewildering unity and diversity, and both the challenge and meaning of the Asian Revolution was grasped and accepted.
I might well have added a parenthesis to point 4 (as to point 3) to the effect that this was a point of advance in Asian history!
At this point, a note on the relation of Australia and New Zealand to Asia is, perhaps, appropriate. As early as 1949, some Australian Christian leaders became aware of the new situation in Asia after the Second World War with the end of the colonial era. The Rev. J.R. Blanchard was not only present at the 1949 Bangkok Conferences of the IMC and WCC, but became a vigorous exponent of the idea that Australia was a part of Asia and should think of itself as a nation with a Western heritage and an Asian destiny. The National Missionary Council and the Australian Council of Churches (especially Victor Coombes and John Garrett) developed relations with Indonesia as it moved into independence about 1950 or 1951. About the same time, relations between the Indonesian and Australian SCMs began to develop. In 1956, the WSCF held a meeting of its newly formed Asian Council, in Bangkok, and a conference for theological students. Australia was invited to both and sent representatives. In 1957, the Prapat Conference was held in Indonesia at which the East Asia Christian Conference (now the Christian Conference of Asia) was formed. The Australians and New Zealanders, present as observers, were invited to become members, and they accepted. Therefore, it was quite natural that, in 1959, both the leadership and membership of Rangoon should include these 'New Asians'; and that one Australian was beginning work as the WSCF’s East Asian Secretary.
Kentaro Shiozuki, of Japan, had already become the WSCF Sectary for Asia and was based in Geneva. He was my 'boss', as he was also of Bob Bates, of America, who became the Secretary for South Asia and was based in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). We worked happily and smoothly together as colleagues.
Asian Visits 1959 and 1960
After Rangoon, Kentaro and I visited, briefly, the SCMs in Bangkok and Singapore together. Although it was more than 13 years since the Japanese Army had surrendered and left Singapore, for both of us it was a somewhat strange - and yet significant - experience to be together in that city where Australians and Chinese had suffered much under the Japanese. We stayed in 'The Happy Home', a small guesthouse owned and run by an elderly Danish couple, who had remained there throughout the war and who had accepted and still cared for a considerable number and variety of animals and birds that had been pets of foreigners forced to leave them. It was, indeed, a happy home for guests and pets! Our host told us of a Japanese army doctor called Suzuki who was a Christian and who had taken great pains in caring for prisoner-of-war patients and some risks in trying to get medicines for their treatment.
After this, Kentaro, Charles Long (in charge of the LMC program) and I spent three fascinating weeks visiting the Indonesian SCM in Java, traveling from one end to the other and back again meeting and talking with students, university staff, ministers and laymen in the various educational centers. Everywhere we received a very warm welcome and a cordial, happy response. Our main purpose was to convey some of the thinking and significance of the Rangoon Conference for the life and mission of the Church and the SCM.
Soon after this, I paid my first visit to the Philippines, Japan and Korea, the beginning of two years of interesting and exciting travel or the Federation filled with much joy, some difficulties, and an ever-growing number of friendships with people of a great variety of nationalities. It would be impossible to write of all these people, meetings and events. Moreover, it would be wearisome to the reader to endure all the detail necessary to the telling. Therefore, I append copies of the travel diaries I wrote for the Student World during that time.
They are from The Student World, No. 4, 1959 and 1961. (See Appendices VIII and IX)
The Strasbourg World Conference, 1960
D.T. Niles had been much involved in the re-thinking of the missionary task of the Church, which had characterized the meetings of the IMC since the war, and in discussion of the significance of the ecumenical movement for the missionary movement. He himself was a very attractive, intelligent, and persuasive preacher with a strong commitment to evangelism and to the student world. He was conscious of the great changes in international Christian thinking, which had resulted from the study and the work of the IMC and the WCC. He was also acutely aware of the tremendous challenges and tasks facing the Church throughout the world, and especially, in Asia. By 1956, he had become convinced of the need to pass on to the younger generation the insights and experience gained and to train them to accept the challenges of their generation. Therefore, he had the vision of a great world teaching conference. He and Philippe brought to the General Committee at Tutzing, on behalf of the Executive Committee a proposal for 'a major effort of study and teaching in the field of ecumenical and missionary questions centered on "The Mission of the Church ". (Tutzing Minutes, p.90). As the Minutes make clear, there was 'a very long discussion' in which both criticisms and suggestions were voiced. There was skepticism about the concept of a teaching conference that was being presented as an occasion when the leaders would convey the truth and pass on the torch to the young. I shared in this and criticized this approach. However, both D.T. and Philippe were very strong men and they pushed the proposal vigorously. (I recall making a mental note, during the debate, that they both had very strong, firm lower jaws! I noted this with affection and humor, for, although I was critical of their proposal, I had a great respect and liking for both of them.)
In the end, time was running out. The General Committee agreed in principle to an amended version consisting of 'a major world conference of a teaching character', proceeded by a regional meeting in Asia and followed by several regional meetings. 'All this chain of meetings should be prepared and followed by intensive study in all
Student Christian Movements’. This last provision resulted in the extensive study program on ‘The Life and Mission of the Church’ for which the WSCF produced a useful series of study outlines. I recall that these had considerable use and influence in Australia and Japan, as well as elsewhere. Also, the title ‘Life and Mission of the Church’, LMC for short, became common parlance, and this helped to highlight the idea in the thought of the SCMs.
D.T. delivered the first address at Strasbourg and experienced what he had been warned of. The student audience reacted against his 'teaching' concept. This was a rare occasion when this extraordinarily able communicator 'missed the bus'. He had to alter his approach.
Much has been written about 'Strasbourg' for it had a disturbing impact. It became a moment of great change and it ushered in that decade of change. It had been planned in the light of the steadily developing theological thought of the previous 35 years, and beyond that, of the lessons of more than a century of Protestant missionary experience. (One number of The Student World had been devoted to the lessons of history, in preparation for Strasbourg.) But by July 1960, unnoticed, almost subterranean, elements broke through the surface, rather like molten lava bursting through new fissures or orifices in a volcano. There was Hans Huykoendyk of the Netherlands calling for the 'de-sacrilizing' of the Church in the light of the emergence of the secular age.
There were many student voices attacking institutionalism and, in particular, the institutional nature of the churches, but also that of the Federation. That was a shock for both older and younger WSCF leaders, for to them the WSCF had always been a student movement. Now here were some students calling it an institution and saying it was not really all that different from the institutionalized churches in that sense. There was a remarkable address from a young French woman, Francoise (Florentin?), early in the conference in which she asserted that French thinkers and students could see little but 'the brokenness' of life. This was a very alien view of the World for most Australians, Americans and others. And there was one trickle of lava seeking a fuller opening - Pan-Africanism and the drive to national independence in Africa. (Seven years
earlier at Nasrapur, there had only been one black African - Bola Ige from Nigeria, which was not then a member Movement.
At Tutzing, four years earlier, Nigeria was the only affiliated. African movement other than South Africa; and there were two Associated Movements, Gold Coast and Sierra Leone, and one Corresponding Movement, Liberia. At Strasbourg, there were enough Black Africans to think in terms of separate rooms for those whose lingua franca was French and those who communicated through English. No sooner had the rooms for regional meetings been announced than there came a strong and vocal demand for one room in order to give expression to their desire to be together for the sake of Pan-Africanism. I had, quickly, to find a room large enough for them all to be together.) These were some of the unexpected forces that shook the foundations at Strasbourg and which found wider expression during the 1960s in the 'God is Dead' movement, the spread of secularization, the decline of the SCMs and the Church Youth Movements, the assault on, and rejection of, institutions of all kinds, the contagion of despair, and the movements against racism. At the time, of course, we did not see all this as things that were likely to happen. We were simply aware of the rumbling beneath and around us, and were uncertain of its significance or of its continuance, except that anti-institutionalism seemed to be real and likely to stay.
Another major characteristic emphasis was that the Church exists for the sake of the world 'and that the life of the Church is life for the world' (Minutes of Thessaloniki General Committee, 1960). So there was a strong insistence on the need for Christian bodies of all kinds, including SCMs, to be in contact and in active dialogue with 'the world, i.e., with those of whatever belief or non-belief, or whatever ideology or political allegiance. This was the beginning of the emphasis on the phrases, which were to become prominent, during the next 20 years, such as, 'Christians must learn to listen' and 'it is the world which sets the agenda for the churches’. One way in which this was begun at Strasbourg was by a staged presentation of Jean-Paul Sartre's Play Huis Clos.
Altogether, Strasbourg was a lively, dynamic experience in which 600 men and women from 70 countries met in an exciting and
creative encounter. It was by no means a failure or a spate of negativism.
There were many highlights, impressive moments, and illuminating ideas and statements. One of these was the opening service in St. Guillaume's Church where men and women out of many nations, races and cultures joined together in common worship, where the organ pealed out a Bach prelude, where each hymn was sung simultaneously in several languages and the Lord's Prayer was said in scores of tongues and dialects. Jean Bosc, a French theologian, preached on Acts 1:8 - you shall be witnesses to me to the ends of the earth - and commented: 'Here the ends of the earth have come together'. Later in the sermon, he said: 'We talk of the ends of the earth, but the earth is round'. With that one sentence he challenged the traditional way of thinking about the Christian mission as progressing from Jerusalem to Europe and then to the 'ends of the earth', as being a 'Western' mission. That sentence continued to stimulate my thinking for the rest of my life, especially with its implication that the task of witness goes on everywhere in the round world.
Robert Mackie, former Chairman WSCF, and wife Dorothy
I see from a letter I wrote home at the time that 'Newbigin gave a superb address on "God so loved the world " and the problem of communication', and that Hromadka, of Prague, was 'terrific' and preached most effectively at an immensely impressive service of Holy Communion in St. Paul's Church. I recall the visit of Karl Earth and his session of answering questions asked by students and others with many touches of delightful humor. And there was Visser't Hooft's address on being with Jesus - simple, direct, profound. He had written a valuable book as part of the preparation for Strasbourg, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, in which he had developed the themes of witness, unity and service. I had had the temerity to suggest, in a letter, that I missed the note of worship in his book - which worship is at the core of Christianity and of the Christian life; that the other things spring from that. He did not reply, nor in his address did he make any overt reference to 'worship', but he emphasized that the central aspect of a Christian's life was 'to be with Jesus'. We met face to face, as he was leaving the hall. He smiled and said, 'You have your reply'. And, indeed, I did. Nor have I ever forgotten it. In his Memoirs, he quotes David Edwards' comment on Strasbourg: 'There seemed to be too much speaking about the life of the church; what students wanted was action in the world. And there seemed to be too much mission; what students wanted was a welcome to this world.' (p.366)
Christian Peace Conference, Prague 1960
Following Strasbourg and Thessaloniki, I was sent to the third session of the Christian Peace Conference in Prague, which was a preparation for the All-Christian Peace Assembly of June 1961 (See Josef L. Hromadka, Student World, No.4, 1960, p.474). Philippe was unable to go, but it was felt important by the Officers that there should be someone there from the WSCF in case there was a Chinese delegation present. There had not been any Chinese at Strasbourg or Thessaloniki although we had hoped someone might arrive even at the last moment. Perhaps there would be someone at Prague since that was in the Eastern bloc and the conference was an Eastern bloc initiative, although a world meeting. So, off I was sent because of my Tutzing contacts with the Chinese. Alas, the Chinese never arrived. It was, nevertheless, a good thing that the Federation was
represented because Hromadka, the presiding genius, had been a Federation leader all his life, because the WSCF had been concerned for Christian – Marxist dialogue and to keep open relations with the International Union of Students (see Tutzing and Thessaloniki Minutes), and because Milan Opocensky of Czechoslovakia, had been at Strasbourg and had urged the need for contact and dialogue between East and West.
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the report of the Section on Politics at Thessaloniki includes these sentences:
As we look back over the last period, it seems to us that the WSCF's concern to maintain unity within its fellowship, almost at all costs, has too often prevented the Federation from doing or saying anything at all. When we are silent or overcautious about controversial political questions, it often happens that our unity is broken instead of being preserved. Unity that is based on the avoidance of issues is false unity. We need to find ways to renew an active dialogue, as a real Christian community within the WSCF as well as within member Movements; on points of theological or political controversy to speak the truth to one another in charity, but with frankness, and not to fear the expression of differing points of view. We recommend open discussion of issues such as the following:
The positive role of neutral nations
The control of nuclear weapons
The difference between the IFES and the WSCF in their attitude towards political questions.
Aid to countries with basic economic needs
Conflicts in the Near East
On my journey home from Prague via Geneva, I called in at Fiji to visit a young SCM, which was developing because of the enthusiasm of former Australian SCMers working there as teachers and medical staff and of students in secondary schools. It was a time
of industrial tension in Fiji with sugar-cane farmers taking violent action in support of their rights. However, I did not experience any trouble, or hear any shooting, at the roadblocks. The welcome I received from Australians, Fijians and Indians was warm, in the cordial sense of that word, and there was much keenness to establish the SCM and to have continuing links with the WSCF.
Some final Comments and Reflections
In March 1961, I completed my service on the staff. That was a very sad moment for, although my travels had been strenuous and demanding, and although they had coincided with periods of serious ill health for both my wife and myself, they were extraordinarily interesting and rewarding. It was a great privilege to be involved in the problems, hopes, dreams and struggles of students in so many different countries, and to help them to share in the richness of a world community as Christian students and work for reconciliation between nations, races and denominations in the name of Christ. In November 1960, during my last visit to Korea, I wrote:
It was a thrill to see the three student organizations (Student YMCA, Student YWCA and Korean Student Christian Federation) working together at last - to see real fruit in unity after all my efforts in 1953 and 1959.
Of course, my efforts were only of a stimulating, catalytic kind. The leaders and members of the three organizations did the real work of uniting, of creating the enthusiasm and commitment, of forming the structure of the Korean Student Christian Council, and of developing its program, year by year. In 1961, the first united national conference was held at Inchon. At it were four Japanese students and two leaders who, subsequently, toured Korea for a fortnight; and there were visits of Korean students and professors to Japan. (See Appendix X, Dale Robbe, last page).
There can never be any itemizing and recording of the influence of the SCMs and the WSCF on the thousands of students whose minds, lives and goals have been influenced, altered and enriched by coming into lively fellowship with other students and together discovering a common loyalty to Christ and joining in serving hi5 purpose of one world. To write these recollections is to be reminded of people involved in a rich, developing and on-going process in
countless places and tasks throughout the world. It is wonderful to have such memories and to find that they are still being added to. Colleagues, whether of the staff or of the committees, became happy friends, and caring ones.
I treasure the memories of my times spent at headquarters in the lovely old eighteenth century building at 13 rue Calvin where time was punctuated by the musical chimes of the bells of Saint Pierre nearby, and where the gracious and friendly Inga Stauffer presided efficiently over the international office staff as Chef de Bureau. She, like the others in that office, was kind to me when, periodically, I flew in from East Asia. I shared an office with Mauricio Lopez, the Latin American Secretary, and a philosopher from Argentina. In those days, he was excited like many Latin Americans, by the hope kindled by Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. When he left the staff, he taught philosophy at the University of Mendoza in Argentina, until New Year's Day (was it 1976?) when there came a fateful knock on the door and he was taken away by strange men never to be seen again. That was the third bereavement amongst our leading colleagues. In 1967, Philippe Maury, who had been Director of Communication for the World Council of Churches since leaving the WSCF, died suddenly after an operation. In 1971, his successor as General Secretary of the Federation, Valdo Galland, of Uruguay, died of cancer in Geneva. Three delightful friends stricken down in so short a time. That has remained a personal sorrow and a puzzling loss to the ecumenical movement and to the intellectual leadership of the churches and the university world. There is a good tribute to Philippe in the Thessaloniki Minutes on the occasion of his impending retirement as General Secretary. As it makes clear, he was a remarkable and imaginative leader and administrator and a cheerful and charming friend; and all this in spite of recurring health Problems.
The same Minutes contain a resolution of thanks to D.T. Niles on the completion of his chairmanship. He too was a vigorous, inspired and inspiring leader. He called forth not only admiration for his ability as a thinker, speaker and strategist, but also warm affection, devotion to the common cause under his leadership.
He was succeeded by Philip Potter – another great chairman – a remarkable communicator, and fine friend, an aspiring and coura-
geous leader and a warmhearted person. How fortunate the Federation was in the fact that these two followed so ably those chairmen who had formed and molded the WSCF from 1895 to 1953 – Karl Fries, John Mott, Francis Miller, Wilhelm Visser't Hooft and Robert Mackie. Seven such chairmen of vision and ability, each with remarkable and distinctive gifts of his own, constitute a blessing of almost unbelievable proportions to the WSCF in the first 70 or so years of its history. And each of them contributed brilliant leadership to the whole ecumenical movement during and after his chairmanship, even as those whom they led, inspired and taught became the leaders, members and supporters of the ecumenical movement at world, national and local levels around the globe – a great company of Christians united under the WSCF motto, Ut Omnes Unum Sint, and committed by their common loyalty to Christ to work together for the realization of that prayer of his: that they may all be one.
In writing these Recollections, I have been struck by the influence, which certain phrases and titles had on me. Each quarter. The Student World appeared in its attractive brown cover with two thin, red, horizontal stripes and the motto UT OMNES UNUM SINT in firm black type. At the beginning of 1937, the theme of the first number was 'The End of the Christian Era?' Twelve months later, the theme was 'The University - Unity or Diversity?' Inside, the editorial highlighted David Paton's phrase 'a University in a University which is not a University' as a description of the SCM. In his article on 'A Modern University in England', he had written: 'In a real sense, therefore, the SCM is called to be a true University inside a University which is not a University'. A decade later, there was the title of Sir Walter Moberly's book. The Crisis in the University-These phrases and titles were trail-blazers, and were particular" influential in focusing, stimulating and directing thought. They exerted power throughout many years of my life. In addition, the articles provided substance, food to nourish thought on these themes and problems.